When starting any creative journey there are probably tools that you are going to need to complete the task. When it comes to woodworking there is an absolute plethora of things you can buy that will compliment your shop but, if you are getting started or you just haven’t got around to making sure your shop has essential items, this list may help make the decision on whether or not you not you need that fancy new riveter or a shiny new spindle sander.
1. Table Saw
The table saw is the center piece of any woodworking shop and if you are trying to round out your tool set, a table saw is an absolute must have. From re-sawing boards, to making perfect rip-cuts, the table saw is your go-to in a lot of situations where accuracy is required. There are a lot of options to choose from and I have a couple of pieces of advice when it comes to making the decision. First, will the table saw you are looking to purchase accept a dado stack? For the uninitiated, a dado stack is a stack of blades that allow you to cut dados and grooves and other joinery with relative ease. Second, is the table saw you are looking at fit your budget? You can expect to pay from $350 for a contractor saw to around $3500 for one of those fancy saws that automatically stop when a hot dog touches it.
2. Cordless Drills
Chances are in your adult life you have at least something laying around to turn a screw. If you have yet to make the leap of getting a cordless drill, you my friend are missing out. In woodworking there are a lot of techniques for joining two pieces of wood together and it mostly has to do with glue and screws. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of ways to join wood but for most of the projects I have done in my life, glue and screws are at the top of the list. For you fancy grammar people that noticed I pluralized “Drills”, I did that on purpose. Having 2 cordless drills in your shop is invaluable since you will find yourself in many situations where you will be drilling holes and turning screws all at once and having that second drill IS a luxury that you will not want to go without again.
3. Combination Square
You may think, drawing a straight line is easy and I can just use my old speed square or framing square to get it right. While this may be true and I still use a speed square and the framing square A LOT, having a combination square makes all the difference when again, accuracy is a must. You can spend a pretty penny on a really great combination square however, if you go to the big orange store or the big blue store, what they have to offer will suffice. Being able to use 1/8” and 1/16” measurements on an accurately square tool will make your life easier when assembling your projects. A combination square is also a handy tool to check for square on your cuts and corners.
4. Measuring Tape
This seems like a no brainer that a measuring tape is needed in a woodworking shop, duh! But, if you are using a tape that you grabbed while waiting in line at the Piggly Wiggly you might be in need of something a little more robust. I’m not knocking your super accurate Piggly Wiggly measuring tape but what you need is something tried and true that can be used with confidence over and over again. So, if you are partial to that unique grocery store find, you may want to consider throwing that in your kitchen junk-drawer to measure the space needed for that new toaster and pick yourself up a decent 25’ tape that can handle some wear and tear.
5. Miter Saw
When it comes to the bulk of cuts in my shop the miter saw is the clear winner. From making clean accurate straight cuts to making those fancy 30 degree bevels for that picnic table project you’ve been putting off for months, the miter saw will see a lot, if not most of the action in your shop. In fact, if you were only going to buy either a table saw or a miter saw I would strongly advise you to go for the miter saw now and wait on the table saw. Thats how much I use the miter saw. If you do forego the table saw and still need to make accurate rip cuts, there are plenty of options to buy a track saw or a rip guide to help you along the way. Here is my advice for buying a miter saw. First, does the fence allow you to screw a wood fence to it? Many accurate cuts come from the ability to mount a longer wood fence to the miter fence and mount a stop block. A stop block allows you to butt your work-piece against a pre-measured location to make the same exact cut over and over again. This is invaluable in woodworking and I wouldn’t buy anything that can’t provide that capability. Second, you will be presented with the option to buy a sliding compound miter saw or a compound miter saw. A sliding compound miter saw allows you to make cuts on boards wider than the blade of your saw, by allowing the blade arm to slide back and forth. This is very convenient when you have lumber that is wider than your saw blade. Last, there are a few different sizes to choose from when buying a miter saw that range from 8” to 12” in most applications. Personally, I would not even consider an 8” miter saw just for the mere fact that you will be very limited in the thickness of lumber you can cut. You also have to consider how you will be using the saw and an 8” might just be the right saw for you.
This is a running joke amongst rookies and seasoned woodworkers throughout the world; no matter how many clamps you have, you definitely DO NOT have enough clamps, period. When woodworking, there are many times when you have to do a glue up that you can cannot screw down for either size or appearance purposes. That’s where clamps come in. There are many different types but the most commonly used and recommended are the F-Style clamps. You may find those “quick-grip” clamps and say hey I’ll just get a bunch of those but, don’t say I didn’t warn you. “Quick-grip” clamps will not do the job intended for F-style clamps. "Quick-Grip" clamps do have a place but they just do not replace a good F-Style clamp. I also find that pipe clamps are a great way to clamp up edge joinery. No matter what you decide to go with and how many you get, you will not have enough clamps!!!
As you can see from this very short list of woodworking shop items, there are absolute essential items that you need to successfully get started in your woodworking endeavors. This list is in no way comprehensive and I'm sure there are many items you can think of that are just as important to the masses or just you. Either way, getting your shop in order is a fun experience and I wish you well on your journey.
Peace, T & S